by Brad Bursa | June 24, 2013 12:01 am
In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 5:31). For Saint Paul, this Love ushers us into a new life: “We were buried … with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection. To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life. (Porta Fidei 6)
In part 1, I identified what seem to be essential elements to the New Evangelization. The list is certainly not comprehensive. However, we can, with certainty identify the New Evangelization with a re-proposal of the faith, which can be nothing other than the re-proposal of “Jesus, his Gospel and his way. Christian life is defined by an encounter with Jesus. When Jesus first came among us, he offered a whole new way of living” (Cardinal Wuerl).
The present post aims to identify what the New Evangelization is not. This is a rather arduous task, then, because everything that is not the proposal of Christ could tend toward this category. Still, it will be helpful to highlight several common “reductions.”
“The Kingdom of God always starts anew under this sign. New evangelization cannot mean: immediately attracting the large masses that have distanced themselves from the Church by using new and more refined methods. No—this is not what new evangelization promises. New evangelization means: never being satisfied with the fact that from the grain of mustard seed, the great tree of the Universal Church grew; never thinking that the fact that different birds may find place among its branches can suffice—rather, it means to dare, once again and with the humility of the small grain, to leave up to God the when and how it will grow” (Mark 4:26-29).
At the heart of all of these temptations or reductions of the New Evangelization is that ever-old, ever-new human problem of pride and autonomy. I recall a certain event in a garden, with the eating of fruit from a forbidden tree. Adam and Eve forgot who God was and preferred their own ways to His; they preferred a human means to happiness as opposed to God’s means. This is really a false hope, a turning toward man and his resources, instead of entering into communion with the Source. We are not immune to the same temptation, in fact, man’s self-reliance dominates the landscape today.
In ministry, too often we have tried to build up the community through purely human means. The hope is always the same – find a magic bullet, a facile response to whatever problem we perceive. And while some fruit comes about, our semi-Pelagianism has really produced an incredible amount of barren trees (the statistics are telling). We fool ourselves into thinking that if only our projects are founded upon Christ, that if His love compels us, then we can expect great things. But here we risk using Christ for our own gain. We expect something out of our projects and processes, instead of hoping in Christ alone.
The real temptation lies in expectancy.
Does my faith lead me to “truly expect everything from the fact of Christ,” or to decide to expect something other, “ultimately making Him a starting point and a support for our projects and programs” (Giussani – Talk given on Feb. 27, 1972)? The New Evangelization must be faith in Christ, hope in Christ, and love of and in Christ, or else we risk using him for our programs in which seek our fulfillment. We cannot substitute a program for real conversion to Christ. We cannot mistake the means for the end.
To be sure, modern methods of communicating the Gospel are valuable. We cannot escape modernity and its methods of communication. But its means cannot confine the Gospel to a designated realm, or a mere fraction of one’s life. As Cardinal Ratzinger said, “All reasonable and morally acceptable methods should be studied – to use these possibilities of communication is a duty. But words and the whole art of communication cannot reach the human person to such depths as the Gospel must reach…” Pope Francis recently made a similar remark: “We might think we should work out programs of evangelization carefully, thinking of strategies and making plans, but these are only tools, small tools. What matters is Jesus and letting ourselves be led by him.”
In light of all that has been said to this point in identifying both the centrality of the Person of Christ and common pitfalls or false hopes of the New Evangelization, is it possible to identify a disposition suitable for the evangelist (remember that all Christians are called to evangelize as part of their baptismal mission)? What must the evangelist’s “expectancy” in Christ look like? Here, I would like to provide three considerations, quoting from Pope Benedict:
Here, in these three points, we see the real impact of this encounter with Christ – an impact that does not mistake means for an end, but turns in prayer to the heart of Christ. Only here, only in expecting everything from faith in Christ, can one hope to live out the Christian call of charity, which is not without suffering unto death. The encounter with Christ, then, becomes a participation in a journey, in His journey, and certainly not one that is accomplished in this life. Yet, “Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection” (Porta Fidei 6).
In the end, we must remember that we don’t produce the Church. Successful evangelization is not the result of a human work or process or project. Evangelization roots itself in a participation in the life and mission of the Redeemer, the action of the Holy Spirit, and the love of the Father. This is what Pope Benedict reminded those gathered at the recent Synod:
“The first word, the true initiative, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves in to the divine initiative, only by begging this divine initiative, will we too be able to become – with him and in him – evangelizers. God is always the beginning, and always it is only he who can make Pentecost, who can create the Church, who can show the reality of his being with us. But, on the other hand, however, this God, who is always the beginning, also wants to involve our activity, so that the activities are theandric, so to speak, made by God, but with our involvement and implying our being, all our activity. So when we are carrying out the new evangelization it is always cooperation with God, it is in the togetherness with God, it is based on prayer and his real presence” (Pope Benedict XVI – Oct. 8, 2012).
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